Penélope Cruz

Occupation: Actress
Date of Birth: April 28, 1974
Place of Birth: Madrid, Spain
Sign: Sun in Taurus, Moon in Cancer
Relations: Father: Eduardo (auto mechanic); mother: Encarna (hairdresser, manager); sister: Mónica (flamenco dancer); brother: Eduardo (soccer player)
Education: National Conservatory, Madrid, Spain; majored in classical ballet


It might have seemed a little too convenient that the stunning pair of Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz were on hand to announce the recipient of the 1999 Foreign Film Academy Award & which just happened to be fellow Spaniard (and frequent director of both actors) Pedro Almodóvar. Still, Señorita Cruz managed to mint a minor Oscar moment by adorably spazzing out, thereby evidencing either her honest excitement for her All About My Mother director or true acting talent.

Although said talent has been well recognized in Spain since the early '90s, the fetching actress has in recent years started to make a splash on this side of the pond through minimal screen time and maximum exposure, including a spot among People magazine's 50 most beautiful folks of 2000. "She can actually stop traffic," claims producer Alan Poul. "When you see her in motion, you can't help but stare."

American audiences have twice as many opportunities to stare at the french-fry-loving vegetarian in 2000. Cruz carries Woman on Top, a sexy romance about a blessed chef whose constant motion sickness is compensated by divine culinary skills and, ultimately, true love. She then stars opposite Matt Damon in Billy Bob Thornton's All the Pretty Horses. On-screen, displaced Texan John Grady Cole (Damon) hooks up with Alejandra (Cruz), the daughter of a wealthy Mexican rancher. Off-screen, the comely co-stars have been rumored to have started a romance that tongue-waggers have blamed for the breakup of Damon and former live-in love Winona Ryder. While the Pretty co-stars have remained coy about the true nature of their relationship, Cruz recently admitted to TV Guide, "We've become very close."

As a child growing up in Madrid, Spain, Cruz didn't want a pretty pony or a pretty stud; instead, she dreamed of swans and nutcrackers and handsome princes. The eldest daughter of an auto mechanic and a hairdresser, she studied classical ballet at the National Conservatory for nine years. Additionally, she spent four years under the tutelage of Cristina Rota and three years learning Spanish ballet from Ángela Garrido, and honed her jazz dancing skills with Raúl Caballero.

As a teenager, Cruz's beauty and dancing prowess garnered her appearances on a myriad of Spanish television shows and in a video for the pop band Mecano, which featured her then-boyfriend Nacho Cano. She completed two years of secondary school before sidelining academics and dancing for acting.

From her 1991 debut in El Laberinto Griego (Greek Labyrinth), Cruz worked steadily in Spanish cinema for the next seven years. Notably, she portrayed one of four sisters who force a Spanish Civil War defector to answer the age-old question "Have you ever had to make up your mind?" in Belle Époque, which won a 1994 foreign film Oscar.

Cruz also made a brief and forgettable jaunt to American shores, accepting a role in a 1993 telepic, Framed, featuring Timothy Dalton. Mercifully, she skedaddled back to Europe and eventually hooked up with rising lensman Almodóvar, who cast her as what she deemed "the ugly woman" in Live Flesh, and then the pair reteamed a second time for the much-touted Mother (1999), in which Cruz depicted a nun impregnated by a transvestite.

A year earlier, Cruz managed two personal victories sans Almodóvar. She filmed La Niña de Tus Ojos (The Girl of Your Dreams), a role that would earn her a 1999 Best Actress Goya. She then appeared in a Hollywood feature, The Hi-Lo Country, opposite Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup. Like any starlet, Cruz ran right out and completely disposed of her first official Tinseltown paycheck. Unlike any starlet, she donated those earnings to Mother Theresa's children's sanctuary in Calcutta, India, where she had briefly volunteered.

As apparent as her inner beauty may be, it was Cruz's undeniable physical beauty that secured her next upcoming major motion picture outing, as Johnny Depp's drug-addicted wife, in Blow (2001). "She was not right at all for the part," director Ted Demme commented to People, "but it was just because of her absolute beauty that I hired her."

Be it that Cruz and a part are simpatico or that Cruz herself is simpatico, the brunette is hardly sitting around waiting for offers to pour in. She's spent the beginning of the new millennium in Greece as Nicolas Cage and Christian Bale vie for her affections in Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Meanwhile, her name has been paired with the other world-famous Cruise (Tom, natch) to complete director-screenwriter Cameron Crowe's next pic, Vanilla Sky.

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